Saturday, October 26, 2013

When Did Nephi Write the Record We Have?

First of all, there was a Book of Lehi, the record Nephi’s father kept (1 Nephi 1:17). When Lehi began this record, we are not told, but the information beginning in 1 Nephi 1:4, and continuing through 1 Nephi 9:6, is abridged from Lehi’s writings, and suggests that at least Lehi’s record began after he was called to preach, evidently in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah (1 Nephi 1:4), or shortly before. Obviously, Nephi read the record of his father when he made an abridgement, or shortened version, of it on a set of plates he was commanded to make (1 Nephi 9:4). This second set of plates, usually referred to as the Small Plates, for though they were the same size as the others, they were limited in number of plates (metal sheets), and contained less information, or an abridgement of both Lehi’s and Nephi’s writing (1 Nephi 19:4).
The first set of plates, upon which Lehi may have written his own record, and Nephi continued with his own record (1 Nephi 10:1), became known as Large Plates, and Nephi referred to as “other plates” (1 Nephi 9:4), which were a much longer and more full account (1 Nephi 19:4). It was these large plates (or at least Mormon’s abridgement of these plates) that Joseph Smith began to first translate, and when 116 pages of written translation were complete, Martin Harris convinced Joseph to let him show the translation to his skeptical wife, and were eventually lost. 
It was these first or Large Plates that Ammaron held and hid up (4th Nephi 1:48), commanding Mormon to later obtain from the hill Shim (Mormon 1:3), which he did (Mormon 4:23), and engraved upon them the history of his times (Mormon 1:4).
    Knowing in advanced that these 116 pages would be lost, even telling Joseph Smith several times not to allow Martin Harris to take them, still, in the end the Lord let Joseph do it as part of Joseph’s learning curve; but from the beginning, the Lord knew a second record would be needed, so he told Nephi to make a another set of plates “the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not” (1 Nephi 9:5). Which purpose we now know, for when the 116 pages were lost, the Lord told Joseph to translate from the small, or Nephi’s abridged, plates, which contained the writings we now have from 1 Nephi to and including Omni. 
It might be of interest to know that the 166 pages were not taken directly from the Book of Lehi, but from the abridgement of that record that Nephi made on the Large Plates )D&C 10:44). Later he took some of that material and included it in his abridgement on the Small Plates.
     When Nephi made, and engraved his abridgement on the Small Plates, he selected those parts that he felt would help us better understand the Savior and His desire to help us (1 Nephi 1:20), and also “that the more sacred things may be kept for the knowledge of my people” (1 Nephi 19:5). Of course, writing any abridgment is challenging because the person making the abridgment has to decide what to include and what to leave out. When Nephi abridged his father’s record, and then his own, onto the Small Plates, he had to choose from the extensive records, which both he and his father had already written. At the same time, in knowing this, we can see why Nephi said some of what he did, and knew what was already available to the reader on the Large Plates for he “did make a record upon the other plates, which gives an account, or which gives a greater account of the wars and contentions and destructions of my people” (1 Nephi 19:4), and in some cases, seem to explain the future of what he is writing.
    In reading what Nephi wrote that we now have in the Book of Mormon, few people stop to think when Nephi actually wrote the account of his family’s flight from Jerusalem and journey across the sea to a land of promise. Knowing when Nephi began to write the small plates (beginning with the account we now have in 1 Nephi) clarifies the purposes that stand behind that record and shaped its ultimate form and subject matter.
    Nephi’s first set of plates were his large plates, fashioned after his arrival in the New World (1 Nephi 19:1–2). On these plates while in the area of their first landing, he recorded the book of Lehi and the secular affairs of his people. Nephi made the small plates even later, after he had left the land of first inheritance and moved to the land they called Nephi—he was probably around 50 years old at that time. The fact that Nephi spent the time abridging and engraving the writings we now have under his name should suggest that the colony probably spent more time in the area of their first landing than many have assumed, because the record says nothing about how long they were there before Nephi was told to flee “with all those who would go with him” (2 Nephi 5:5). However, during that time there he engraved the Large Plates he made, and Lehi spent time to bless all his children before his death, which occurred in that area of first landing (2 Nephi 4:12).
    Thus the small plates should be understood as having been written after the death of Lehi, after the separation of Nephi from his brothers Laman and Lemuel, after the small Nephite party knew of the life-threatening animosity of the Lamanites against them, after Nephi knew that he would eventually accept the role of ruler over his people, and after the temple of Nephi had been constructed.
Many read 1 Nephi like it was a daily journal, but it is not—it is a reminiscent, retrospective account (2 Nephi 4:15) of the past, and a purposeful revision of the earlier book of Lehi and the other words previously recorded on the large plates. This matter of timing was important enough to Nephi that he stated three times in 1 Nephi that he was writing the small plates somewhat late in his life—as early as in 1 Nephi 6:1, Nephi openly acknowledged that, as stated earlier, the small plates were being written after he knew what the book of Lehi contained. The book of Lehi would have been finished after Lehi and Nephi arrived in the New World. In much the same way, Mormon abridged the entire record from Mosiah through 4th Nephi, with Moroni abridging Ether’s record. In such cases, both injected information from time to time that was known to them, of events of  a much earlier date than when they wrote the records they abridged. Thus, Mormon inserts a description of the Land of Promise in Alma 22 so we, his future readers, could better understand the size of the Nephite domain and how much of it was controlled by the Lamanites.
    Nephi was careful to let us know that his small plates were different from the large plates, the latter being those plates “upon which I make a full account of the history of my people” (1 Nephi 9:2). He also makes it very clear that it was the Lord who directed him to make the small plates that they contained “an account engraven of the ministry of my people” (1 Nephi 19:3). Thus we understand that Nephi began the small plates after the large plates had been completed up to that point in time. We also understand that the small plates were begun after the “reign of the kings” had been established, and after he had become the Nephite leader long enough to refer to “my people” five times in only three verses—161 words (1 Nephi 9).
    From all of this we see that Nephi began writing the small plates after the large plates were well under way—after the reign of kings was established, after Nephi received the Lord’s commandment mentioned in 2 Nephi 5:30, and after he had a distinct group of people whom he could call “my people.” In the case of Nephi’s writings, because we know when, where, and why he wrote what he did, we can confidently turn our attention to pursue revealing information and obtain meaning from the lessons he left behind. 
And in this vein, we again turn to the comments Nephi made about constructing his ship, and the simplicity of his statements about “being driven forth before the wind,” for when he wrote this, he had already sailed to the Land of Promise in the New World. He fully understood the motive power of his ship and the fact that currents and winds were what propelled them. Nor did he feel it necessary to include any events along the way, for obviously there were none of note, such as landings, sightings, etc. They did not island hop, nor wind their way between small land masses, but sailed along the current as he said—evidently swiftly and without incident.
    There is much to learn from what Nephi wrote. However, that does not mean we have to look beyond the mark, or try to dig deeper than what he simply told us—what we need to do is understand what he said without trying to alter, change, or ignore parts that do not agree with our models and opinions.


  1. I am looking forward to the day when the large plates become available to the world. The only thing I wonder is if when they become available.. the people who really need to see that the Book of Mormon is indeed a true record.. those people will be dead.

    I believe it will come "after" the cleansing of the wicked from the earth. And when those plates are given.. it will be for the faithful and a physical confirmation of their faith.

    At least.. that is what I think. :-)

  2. I read the book "Lehi Never Saw Mesoamerica" and liked it. I do not remember it mentioning any specific hill in Ecuador as being most likely the Hill Cumorah. Priddis says it is the Cerro Imbabura, which is in that area. I wonder if Del agrees with this choice or has a different or no choice.

  3. im having trouble with something that was in a previous post on october 21st. "the reason that the seer stone was so important was because once the English words appeared in the stone, they refused to disappear until the scribe had written the words down correctly — including the spelling of the words!"... "it would appear in Brite Roman Letters then he would tell the writer and he would write it[.] then that would go away the next sentence would Come and so on But if it was not Spelt rite it would not go away till it was rite[,] so we see it was marvelous. thus was the hol [whole] translated."
    However in the post on June 27th you wrote, "Because of several typographical, spelling, and grammatical errors, the next publication (1837) edition had over a thousand corrections made by Joseph Smith with the help of Oliver Cowdery, most were grammatical changes," and in another post you talked about the reason why there were so many editions of the BoM you said that there were spelling errors that had to be fixed because there were words like sarawful instead of sorrowful. Can you please explain thank you

  4. Mr. Niron: You might well be correct.
    George: I know many people want to place locations to Book of Mormon locations, such as cities, lakes, hills, etc., but there really is so little information about any place that doing so is merely stating an opinion and I have often found such opinions fruitless and misleading. Unless there is a reason why a placement is made, other than it is in the general location or direction, then I have chosen to stay away from such statements until further information becomes available--and in the case of the scriptural record, we now have all there is until Mr. Nirom's prediction comes true. All we know is that the Hill Cumorah is in the Land of Many Waters--there is such a place in Ecuador, but to try and place a particular hill within an area of hundreds of hills, mountains, etc., seems foolish to me.
    Ben: In the articles, I was quoting different individuals who claimed knowledge of the translating. We cannot know more now than what they said; however, we need to keep in mind that Joseph spoke the statement, the scribe wrote it down, and then the scribe repeated the statement. If the statement was repeated correctly, the words were said to have vanished. There is no mention of any spelling check involved. Consequently, we can surmise that the statement, or the words, were correct, but their spelling was sufficient for the time (1820s). It is also a factor that the pages of translation were copied at least once and the copy given to the printer for typesetting. Since there were no standard spelling in that day (as there is now), many words were acceptable though spelled differently.